Research approach

This research aims to adopt open source principles for co-production of urban design projects by designing an online platform for open source urbanism. To design a platform, a design research approach must be chosen. Design Research seeks to develop prescriptive knowledge through designing and evaluating innovative ICT-artifacts intended to solve an identified class of problems (Hevner et al., 2004). Scholars presented several approaches of conducting Design Research; despite slightly different goals all of them have similar structure and guidelines (Hevner et al., 2004; Peffers et al., 2007; Verschuren & Hartog, 2005). 

Should be taken into consideration, that OSU-platform attempts to change the process of DIY-project development and socio-spatial practices of citizens involved in such projects by intervening them with open source urbanism approach. ‘Classical’ design research methods a) unable to reflect and sustain this process of change due to limited evaluation stage which carried out only on the final step of design research cycle (see Hevner et al., 2004) and b) does not recognize that artifacts emerge in interaction with ‘organizational elements’ (i.e. artifact users and environment) (see Peffers et al., 2007) . To be appropriate for the objective of the research project, a research methodology should combine aspects of design research with participatory action research. Action Design Research Methodology fulfills this requirement. Therefore, we will follow the ADR model described by Sein et al. (2011) which includes four stages: problem formulation; building, intervention, and evaluation; reflection and learning; formalization of learning (Figure 1). First three stages are performing in cycles until an artifact fulfill the requirements and learning may be formalized in design knowledge addressing the research problem.

Figure 1. ADR Methodology stages (based on Sein et al., 2011)

The stages corroborated by 7 principles of ADR that serve the role of guidelines of the research process (Table 1). Relations between the stages and principles anchored to them shown in Figure 1.

Table 1. Principles of ADR (Sein et al., 2011)





Practice-Inspired Research

Emphasizes viewing field problems as knowledge-creation opportunities.


Theory-Ingrained Artifact

Emphasizes the ensemble artifacts created and evaluated via ADR are informed by theories


Reciprocal Shaping

Emphasizes the inseparable influences mutually exerted by the two domains: the IT artifact and the organizational context.


Mutually Influential Roles 

Points to the importance of mutual learning among the different project participants.


Authentic and Concurrent Evaluation

Emphasizes a key characteristic of ADR: evaluation is not a separate stage of the research process that follows building.


Guided Emergence

Emphasizes that the ensemble artifact will reflect ongoing shaping by organizational use, perspectives, and participants


Generalized Outcomes

Emphasizes that the ensemble artifact represents a solution that addresses a problem; and both can be generalized.

In following paragraphs we will briefly describe empirical studies of the research project and justify their adherence to ADR principles. To operationalize objective of ADR method initial design requirements (i.e. functional, user, and context requirements) of the artifact have been derived from the artifact goal G (listed in Appendix A)  (Verschuren & Hartog, 2005) . We will conduct a review of state-of-the-art digital tools for collecting and sharing of urban design knowledge to scrutinize features and drawbacks of currently developed solutions (Principle 1, Table 4). Initial artifact requirements will be upgraded according to state of the art. 

ADR methodology identifies two endpoints for the research design continuum: IT-dominant BIE and organization-dominant BIE. We have adopted IT-dominant BIE-cycle to design an IT-based artifact. This approach emphasizes creating an innovative technological design where early prototypes serve as a light-weight intervention in a limited amount of artifact users and more mature artifact will be tested in the real project context (Sein, Henfridsson, Purao, Rossi, & Lindgren, 2011). 

We will conduct three “Build-Intervention-Evaluation” cycles (we call them Acts)  that ensure research relevance with following reflection and learning phases (we call them Entractes) that reflect research rigor (Figure 2). Each of Acts will be conducted in a different city that satisfies context requirements Rc (Appendix A, Table X.3) to verify that artifact store context independent urban design that may be reproduced in any urban context. 

Figure 2. Research phases (based on Sein et al. 2011)

The first BIE-cycle (Act 1)  was conducted in ‘laboratory condition’ within the team of urban design practitioners and researchers at ITMO University, Saint-Petersburg, Russia. 

The second and the third BIE-cycles will be performed in an urban context with DIY-communities. Intervention in a real community is a crucial condition in ADR because communication of researcher with community members will enable mutual learning on the experience by each participant and lead to reciprocal shaping both platform and community (Principles 3 and 4, Table 4). Each of Acts implies evaluation because evaluation should not be separable from building of an artifact and intervening in practice (Principle 5, Table 4). Each of them will be followed by Entract that ensures conscious reflection and learning from the design process and intervention in the real urban context (Principle 6, Table 4). It means that emerging design will reflect on ongoing shaping by use, perspectives, and participants.

Artifacts constructed in design science research are rarely mature information systems that ready for use in practice. “Instead, artifacts are innovations that define the ideas, practices, technical capabilities, and products through which the analysis, design, implementation, and use of information systems can be effectively and efficiently accomplished “ (Hevner et al., 2004, p. 83). That’s why the specific design solution will be generalized into design principles that can help to solve a class of problems (Principle 7, Table 4). Finally, we will organize a conference to disseminate design knowledge gained during this research project. To ensure that emerging design principles reflect the entire class of problems independently from any specific urban context we will conduct every BIE-cycle in a different city. To be selected for the study a city should fulfill following criteria:

  1. Mature digital capabilities of a city. Undertaking efforts of designing an ICT-platform must be successfully adopted in the context of digital city infrastructure.
  2. Civic and knowledge institutions interested in the system change
  3. A plethora of grassroots communities engaged in urban transformation initiatives.